Monday Verdict: Zlatan has ‘well and truly silenced’ his critics

Date published: Monday 19th December 2016 3:37

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s amazing form for Manchester United is saluted, while we also discuss Antonio Conte’s winning mentality and take a pop at Arsene Wenger’s latest dig at referees.

 

Zlatan more than just undroppable for Manchester United

It’s fair to say Manchester United have had more than a few famous No 9s over the years. Some stellar names have worn the shirt with both pride and distinction – none more so than the legendary Sir Bobby Charlton, who (just about) to this day remains the club’s all-time record goalscorer.

Before Charlton, there was the prolific Tommy Taylor in the 1950s to, more recently, Andy Cole and Dimitar Berbatov.

Anthony Martial wore the shirt with no sense of weariness last season; before that there was Radamel Falcao, though the less said about that, the better….

But now the latest incumbent of the Manchester United No 9 shirt isn’t proving to be all that bad either….

When Zlatan Ibrahimovic signed for Manchester United this summer, there were plenty who questioned whether the much-travelled striker, at the age of 34, was making the move to England too late and would struggle to adapt. If you were one of the doubters, you weren’t alone.

A few months later, those critics haven’t just been put on mute, they’ve been well and truly silenced.

Well, apart from, that is a certain Michael Owen, who just three weeks ago, crazily branded Ibrahimovic a ‘stop-gap striker’.

Owen, in his role as a BT Sports pundit said:

“He’s definitely a stop-gap striker.

“He’s good but we’re talking Manchester United, you need to be one of the best strikers in the world to [be] the regular striker here.

“Jose Mourinho didn’t think the current crop were ready [when he arrived]. Rashford: not ready; Wayne Rooney: probably saw him as a No 10; Martial: didn’t see him as a striker. So [Zlatan] is a stopgap.

“A little bit like a few seasons ago when Robin van Persie was just brought for the one or two seasons [so]…they can find someone else on the market or some young kid can come through.”

Oh Michael. How do you seemingly manage to get everything so inexplicably wrong!?

Quite simply, Zlatan – the man with the huge reputation and even bigger ego – has well and truly delivered.

Prior to Saturday evening’s game at West Brom, Jose Mourinho had suggested the player was in need of a rest, having featured in 25 of their 27 games so far.

His reason for not resting him was provided here by Mourinho, who in a nutshell, described the Swede as both ‘impossible to drop’ and as playing ‘phenomenally well’. You may not agree with everything Mourinho says; this was one of those rare occasions when everyone will have nodded their approval at the Portuguese’s claim.

Quite simply, Zlatan has been brilliant; supreme if you like. The following stats are testimony to that.

  • Ibrahimovic has scored 16 goals in all competitions this season; 11 more than any Man Utd player
  • Ibrahimovic’s strike rate for Manchester United is a goal every 1.56 games
  • Ibrahimovic has scored 9 goals in his last 10 games
  • Ibrahimovic’s 16 goals this season is only 1 short of Man Utd’s top scorer’s tally last season (Anthony Martial, 17)
  • Ibrahimovic’s 11 goals in the Premier League have come in 1440 minutes of action (a goal every 131 minutes)
  • Ibrahimovic has averaged 4.6 shots per game in the Premier League (only Sergio Aguero, 5.1, has more)
  • Ibrahimovic has scored in 100 of his 170 league games since the start of 2011/12

 

I’d touched on earlier about United’s famous No 9s over the years. The most prolific of them all? No, not quite Zlatan yet – but he’s not a million miles off.

Granted, it’s unfair to compare Ibrahimovic after not quite half a season so some of the legendary names on the following list, but everything deserves putting into context.

Two goals in his next outing will see him move level with the one man currently ahead of him in the pecking order, though it would be disrespectful not to mention the tragic death of Tommy Taylor (pictured above), along with seven of his team-mates, in the Munich Air Disaster of 1958. What Taylor achieved was outstanding; his loss to the club and football at that time, devastating.

 

Tommy Taylor, played 1953-58, 131 goals in 191 games – 0.69 ratio

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, played 2016 – , 16 goals in 25 games – 0.64 ratio

David Herd, played 1961-1968, 145 goals in 265 appearances – 0.54 ratio

Jack Rowley, played 1937-1955, 211 in 424 games – 0.49 ratio

Andy Cole, played 1995-2002, 121 goals in 275 games – 0.44 ratio

Dimitar Berbatov, played 2008-2012, 56 goals in 149 games – 0.38 ratio

Stuart Pearson, played 1974-1979, 66 goals in 180 games – 0.35 ratio

Louis Saha, played 2004-2008, 42 goals in 124 appearances – 0.34 ratio

Sir Bobby Charlton, played 1956-1973, 249 goals in 758 games – 0.33 ratio

Joe Jordan, played 1978-1981, 41 goals in 126 games – 0.33 ratio

Brian McClair, played 1987-1998, 127 goals in 471 games – 0.27 ratio

 

So, when Mourinho says Ibrahimovic has become undroppable for Manchester United, it’s fair to say the United boss is talking facts, not fiction.

Jose Mourinho: Confirms extension for Zlatan

 

As a final note, I think we all should take a moment to consider that Ibrahimovic is pulling up these incredible stats at the age of 35. 35! The sort of age most players are either already retired, seriously pondering it, or winding down their careers in the lower leagues. Not Zlatan. This feels like just the start for the player at Old Trafford.

When United signed the charismatic Swede in the summer, it was on a 12-month deal with the option of a second year. I think it’s pretty safe to assume the club will be taking that up – and would it be a huge surprise to see them announce that early to reward what has been a truly sensational start to his Manchester United career.

It seems Zlatan as a man is perfect Manchester United material too.

He’s a big personality and delivers on a regular basis. The media’s dream, yes, a perfect advert for the Premier League and – just take a look at the following video – a genuinely nice fella too.

 

READ MORE: West Brom v Man Utd player ratings

 

What a difference a year makes for Chelsea

This time last year, Chelsea were dusting themselves down from the dismissal of Jose Mourinho and the appalling start to their title defence.

A year later and the Blues are flying: they’ll be top of the tree at Christmas and by at the very least six points – and that’s only if Liverpool win their Monday Night Football showdown at Everton.

I’ve written before in this column about the brilliance of Antonio Conte and how he has transformed Chelsea’s fortunes.

Their fortunes this season though are even more remarkable given where they have come from – with the 3-0 defeat to Arsenal on September 24 leaving them in 10th place (even Crystal Palace were above them then!) and eight points from early pacesetters Manchester City.

And while Conte plenty of credit for their transformation, it was interesting to read about what brought about the mental shift at Chelsea and how the Blues used the negatives of their defeats at Arsenal and at home to Liverpool to turn their season around.

“After the defeat against Liverpool, and also against Arsenal, it changed something in me, in the players, in the club,” the Italian said. “We understood the way to go and have a different season, compared to last season.

“It was different. For this reason, we found the right solution, formation, but also to improve the quality of the work in all aspects. After these two bad games, we changed a lot.

“I like to win, and to see my teams have two bad defeats – we deserved two bad defeats – I didn’t like this and I tried to find the right solution on the pitch, outside of the pitch. We found the right solution with the players, to explain that we all deserve better than last season.

If Chelsea do go on to win the title, it’ll prove what a wonderful coach the Italian is. Being brave enough to change the system when it wasn’t working is one thing, but to engineer an entire switch in mindset off the back of it, is what’s truly remarkable.

 

 

READ MORE

Chelsea’s resolve a scary prospect; duo’s absence will test squad

 

 

Latest Arsene Wenger moan is truly irksome

Arsene Wenger: Unhappy with decisions

 

Arsenal lose, Arsene Wenger moans. Nothing changes. Nor does the nature of them. His moans don’t centre around the soft-nature of his own players (see this analysis for more on that), that fact this his star men go missing (Mesut Ozil, I’m looking at you) or even that the opposition were, just simply, too good.

In general, it’s always someone else’s fault.

The subject of his moan on Sunday: the referees, of course.

“We conceded two offside goals which is very difficult to accept in a game of that stature,” said Wenger. “But, as it is well known, the referees are protected very well like the lions in the zoo, so we have to live with those decisions.”

Sunday’s match was a tough one for the officials. The first goal, Wenger definitely had a case in point. But seeing the game as the officials did in normal time, you can see why they got that one wrong. Their brief is to give the benefit of doubt to the attacking side, and in this incident they did that to the letter of the law. The fact that replays showed us Leroy Sane was in fact offside is hardly a reason to point the finger.

As for the second goal? It would have been ridiculously harsh to chalk that one off for offside, with Wenger’s moan focusing on David Silva in the build-up.

As per with the Frenchman, he’d have got a lot more credit for focusing on his own side’s disjointed and flimsy second-half display, rather than ridiculously trying to apportion the blame on the officials.

 

READ MORE

Man City v Arsenal talking points: Gunners naivety; Sane’s big statement

 

Middlesbrough’s Fantastic Beast rolling backs the years

Alvaro Negredo: Fires Boro to vital win

When Middlesbrough signed Alvaro Negredo over the summer, I’d imagine half the Premier League were looking at them in envy and doffing their cap at what seemed, on paper at least, a really excellent signing.

His brief spell in English football before had seen him plunder 23 goals in 49 appearances for the club – and he was one of those all-action centre forwards whom you knew opposing defenders hated facing such was his robust style.

For whatever reason, however, the player – nicknamed The Beast due to his powerful nature – hasn’t really clicked into gear on Teesside. But two goals in a draw at Leicester last month suggested the player was finding his feet again, while his brilliant brace on Saturday to help sink Swansea suggests his star is ready to shine again.

As far as Boro are concerned, an on-song Negredo will pretty much single-handedly keep the club in the Premier League. The old adage – feed the Beast and he will score – is certainly true in this case and Aitor Karanka needs to build his side around getting the best out of the Spaniard to ensure safety as soon as possible.

 

Hull struggling – but luck hugely against them

Mike Phelan: Hull should have won

It said everything about the events at the London Stadium that the post was named man of the match by the official West Ham Twitter poll.

In fairness it did have a good game, denying Dieumerci Mbokani and Andrew Robertson as well as preventing a Mark Noble own goal, and has certainly contributed more than most of West Ham’s summer signings.

But when Noble converted a dubious penalty, all luckless Hull had to show for their efforts was bottom spot.

Poor Hull. They’ll unlikely win much sympathy, nor be missed when the inevitable happens, but it says a lot about which direction a team is heading in when even when playing well, they still end up losing a match.

 

Marcos Rojo: A potential ticking time bomb, but a bloody excellent defender

Marcos Rojo (r): Back in favour at Man Utd

Marcos Rojo‘s tackling has been called into question this month after he escaped with yellow cards following reckless challenges on Idrissa Gueye and Wilfried Zaha.

On Saturday, he helped Manchester United to a clean sheet in their 2-0 win over West Brom and now looks a mainstay of their defence after another impressive display.

Here, we look at the Argentinian’s overall performance at The Hawthorns – and find a player who now looks very much a big part of Jose Mourinho’s plans.

 

TEMPERAMENT

He was in control of United’s defensive line and guided the rest of the backline through the game, regularly pushing them up and barking instructions.

But he lost his cool in the second half after clashing with Salomon Rondon. The pair squared up to each other, with Rondon lucky to avoid a red card when he slapped Rojo in the face.

To his credit Rojo did not retaliate, although he was booked for the altercation, and perhaps should not have put himself in that position in the first place.

TACKLING

Marcos Rojo: Clean tackle?

The 26-year-old had only picked up two bookings prior to coming to The Hawthorns this season – for the poor challenges on Everton’s Gueye and Crystal Palace’s Zaha which have put him in the spotlight.

He escaped without punishment for a foul on Rondon, but the biggest controversy was at the other end after Zlatan Ibrahimovic charged into Craig Dawson and only received a yellow card.

On Saturday Rojo nicked the ball away from Rondon a few times, cleanly, and there was no sign of the recklessness he was accused of at Selhurst Park on Wednesday.

MARKING

The United defence collectively lost Rondon when he headed wide in the first half, but, generally, Rojo‘s marking and positioning was exceptional.

He would drop deep to anticipate the flick on and second ball, while also making sure his team-mates knew exactly what they were doing.

Albion did not pose enough problems, though, and Rojo just needed to concentrate to ease through the game.

OVERALL

Aside from the second-half clash with Rondon it was a fairly comfortable outing for the Argentina international and he went about his job with an impressive composure.

There will be harder evenings as Albion did little to serious test Unite,d but Rojo should be pleased after a week where he again came under scrutiny.

He may not have the physical presence of former United centre-backs like Jaap Stam or Rio Ferdinand, but he showed his qualities at West Brom.

 

James Marshment

 

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